Advertising on Zhihu - All You Need To Know (2020)
I’ll cut straight to the point: Zhihu is China’s most popular Q&A platform, and it’s time you consider it for marketing your brand to Chinese consumers. In this post, I will discuss in detail how to promote your posts and advertise to your target audience on Zhihu. It is relevant for B2B brands and educational institutions that wish to reach Chinese audiences, experts in their specific fields, as well as those who would like to build a personal brand in China.
Plus, we’re sharing data and information straight from the source: Zhihu’s official guidebook for advertisers.
As of 2020, Zhihu has 420 million registered users, 56% of whom are male (but the proportion of female users continues to grow). Users belong to no specific age group, and they are located all over China (but mainly in first and second-tier cities). The platform records 45 million daily active users (DAU) that spend an average of 70 mins/day on the platform.
In the nine years since it was launched, Zhihu’s users have published over 560,000 topics, 45 million questions, and 200 million answers! (Data comes from official Zhihu records.)
If you’re not familiar with the platform yet, before you read on any further, I suggest you check the previous posts and videos in which we cover Zhihu basics.
And here’s a video tour of the platform:
Is Zhihu Advertising For You?
There’s no one perfect way to reach your target audience on Zhihu. If you believe in content marketing that snowballs over time (as you should!) and you do not necessarily want to invest any of your budget into advertising, there are many other ways to drive users to your content. Closely following trending topics, piggybacking on their momentum and then interacting with popular users and posts, are just a few ways.
However, you could also slightly improve your luck by boosting the posts you publish. If your brand is not well-known in China, or you’re building an account from scratch, it may be a good idea to spend some cash to boost your content to a broader audience instead of relying solely on organic traffic. On Zhihu, it is called Zhi+ (知+), and promoting your posts follows a similar model to Douyin as it relies on pushing existing content pieces to new users; in this case, it will rank your answers up top for those who have already checked the related question. Moreover, Zhi+ will also allow you to insert call-to-actions (CTAs) to drive users to your website, contact form, etc. So, Zhi+ is generally giving your content superpowers ;-)
For those who want to do even more and run a fully targeted social advertising campaign in addition to their content marketing efforts, we recommend using a different model offered by Zhihu: News Feed ads (知乎头条广告). Based on our experience, it comes close to the advertising system offered by Weibo (Fan Connect, 粉丝通). This option comes with the ability to create banner and video ads which are shown in the user's news feed and in other hard-to-miss places. We also recommend this option for those of you who do not want to run organic-content marketing on Zhihu but prefer to use it solely for advertising.
Moreover, both options allow you to advertise your account, posts and/or CTA with existing influencer accounts on the platform. But more on that later.
Advertising on Zhihu may be more advantageous over campaigns on ‘lifestyle’ social media (particularly in the B2B sector), as the platform is a hub for those looking for specific and professionally-written answers from knowledgeable users. Thanks to detailed targeting options, you can make sure your content and ads are shown to those who are further down the decision-making funnel. Therefore, we also recommend it to our education-based clients, making sure their official account ranks higher than others.
Is Zhihu Advertising Available For Everyone?
As usual with Chinese platforms, there are certain restrictions.
If you have a business entity registered in mainland China, it should be easy to apply for an advertising account. The situation is similar for schools that are listed on China’s official list of foreign colleges and universities.
The advertising account is set up individually from your Zhihu business/organisation account. There’s also a separate advertising account for Zhi+ and News Feed ads. Setting them up is free of charge; however, both accounts need to be charged initially with 20,000 CNY (3,000 USD). This makes up your ad budget and can be distributed—as you wish—over time and the campaigns (a common practice among Chinese platforms). If you set up both Zhi+ and News Feed ad accounts at the same time, you may choose to assign 10,000 CNY to each account.
For everyone who does not have a Chinese business entity, we usually recommend setting up and verifying a personal account on Zhihu (more on setup and verification here). It is the only option available at the moment, but unfortunately, it does not allow the setting up of an advertising account.
So, for personal accounts, we have found a different way. Although Zhihu News Feed ads are beyond your reach, you could still take advantage of Zhi+ and influencers. All you need to do is cooperate with local Chinese businesses or an agency such as…us! All we need to do is bind your personal account to our business account, and we will be able to boost your posts for you.
In both cases, if you’re considering Zhihu advertising, reach out to us to discuss the details.
Advertising on Zhihu with News Feed Ads
Let’s sum up everything we’ve said about News Feed advertising on Zhihu so far.
First, it is only available for businesses and organisations recognised and/or based in mainland China. Second, it allows precise targeting and various landing page options (more on that below). Third, you don’t even need a Zhihu account to advertise banners and CTAs via News Feed ads as the advertising account is separate from a regular Zhihu account. Last of all, a News Feed advertising account is different from a Zhi+ advertising account.
That being said, the first step is to set up a News Feed advertising account. You can do it here. You will need:
- Certificate of incorporation in mainland China. For schools: an industry-specific permit instead (办学许可证).
- Website URL: all websites must have a business ICP licence.
- Email address and company logo.
- Some industries may require additional paperwork.
- Power of attorney given to the agency that manages your account.
Next step is charging your account. Zhihu requires the accounts to be charged via affiliated agencies, and the minimum top-up is 20,000 CNY.
The cost for News Feed ads varies depending on your industry. On average, the cost-per-click (CPC) for homepage ads are around 0.8–1.5 CNY, and on specific answer-related pages: 0.35–0.6 CNY. The recommended daily budget is approximately 1,000 CNY (150 USD) per day, but this should be calculated on a case-to-case basis.
Advertising Types for Zhihu News Feed Ads
There are various advertising types available depending on whether you want to advertise the content published within your account, or you wish to drive users elsewhere.
Banner and ‘card’ ads are more suitable for graphic and video content. You can leverage these types of ads to drive users to take a specific action (such as messaging you) or drive them to your website, a Zhihu mini-program, an H5 page, the Tmall and JD.com store.
With News Feed ads, you can choose various advertising spots:
- Open-screen ads.
- Pop-up ads on the main page.
- Banner ads on the main page.
- Trending topics text/card ads.
- News Feed banner/video ads - usually the third spot in the user’s news feed.
- Ads on the page of chosen question/answer.
Zhihu uses ‘drag to refresh’ in its app. And with each refresh—appears a new ad.
Targeting Options for Zhihu News Feed Ads
News Feed ads provide much better options for targeting your audience. Of course, you may rely on the algorithm or choose ‘target audience packs’ suggested by the system. But if you know the customer base well enough, or you want to keep control over the different target groups, we recommend designing your campaign from scratch.
The basic option includes targeting users based on their location, sex, and age groups (<18, 18–24, 25–30, etc.). You may also add your own keywords, and target users based on their interests.
Other options include advertising to users based on their device’s operating system, the device’s price, Wifi or mobile data usage (relevant if your ads include videos), app behaviour, etc.
Promoting Your Brand and Content With Zhi+
Previously, Zhihu had several marketing plans for business accounts and would charge yearly fees for access to various features. In 2020, they replaced the plans with Zhi+ and changed the pricing model. Now, there are no more flat-annual fees; instead, the platform only charges based on CPM and CPC models, and all the marketing tools are included.
As I mentioned before, Zhi+ offers various opportunities to increase the on-platform exposure of user-published content. Unless you already have thousands of followers, or you are fluent at leveraging trends and building accounts up on Zhihu, I recommend you use this opportunity to promote your content to a broader audience. Even for widely recognised brands and schools, it is a great way of letting people know about your account.
For industries such as e-commerce, online and commercial services, the cost-per-click is around 4–6 CNY; in contrast, the IT industry can expect the CPC to reach as high as 135 CNY on average. The cost is also different based on the ad type you choose.
Besides, Zhi+ is not only for advertising. It offers a wide range of tools, such as ‘content suggestion’ is a feature which makes recommendations regarding the questions you should answer, or what topics are worth looking into. It will also let you know how many people follow the topic (they’ll see your post in their news feed), what’s the interaction rate for related posts, an average CTR for the featured ads, and much more.
To set up Zhi+ you first need a verified business/organisation account (check our post here), or as I mentioned above, you need to link your personal account to another business account (such as ours). The top-up process is similar to News Feed ads. The first one is 20,000 CNY, and you need to do it via an affiliated agency.
It’s worth remembering, Zhi+ is most useful for active accounts that publish engaging Chinese-language content regularly. If for any reason you can’t, then you may choose to just insert your CTA into other people’s content or hire us so that we create the content for you.
Advertising Types for Zhi+
Zhi+ doesn’t have the same targeting options that News Feed advertising offers. Therefore, you can’t target users via keywords or demographics. You may put your client persona aside for a moment, because with Zhi+ we will be targeting audiences based on the content they are interested in. It’s different from what you’re probably used to, but it gives you a very powerful targeting feature.
The two main options are (you can choose both):
‘Next answer’ - when a user clicks on a question, and when they click through to see the second (next) answer, Zhi+ will show your post. For this option, you pay based on the CPC model (starts from 0.2 CNY). The fee is charged when the user clicks ‘Next answer’ and sees your post.
Content divider - your ad (CTA) is inserted into the articles or answers belonging to yourself or other users. To cooperate with others, you will first need to negotiate the terms with the content creator. For this option, you will pay for each click and a flat-monthly fee to the content creator.
It is possible to combine both options. You may promote an answer that includes your CTA, which means that when a user clicks on ‘next answer’, they’ll not only see the post you want them to see, but the post will also encourage them to take a specific action.
The advantage of this type of targeting is that you place your content or your CTA in front of users who are already interested in a specific topic. These people have identified a certain problem and if you can provide a solution to their issue, this is a perfect place to offer it to them.
For example, imagine a high-school student is trying to learn more about art programmes and student life in Canada. Other users already asked about it on Zhihu, and the student is browsing through the answers. One post is particularly interesting; it’s written by another somebody who already studies in Canada, and this person is a recognisable user on Zhihu. Right in the middle of their answer, the student sees a short introduction to your university. From here, they can click-through to learn more about the programmes you offer, or they can click-through to contact a representative of your school on WeChat.
Another example, someone's researching a new productivity tool for their team. They have performed searches on Baidu and visited a few websites, but they are interested in hearing what other users recommend. They follow up with a question on Zhihu: ‘What content production tools can greatly improve my work efficiency?’ As they browse their news feed, they see an informative and relevant new answer, and within the answer, they also see a recommendation for your productivity tool. So, they click-through to an H5 page and they learn about your solution, and at this point, they can submit a contact form and reach out to your team.
What Else You Should Know About Zhihu Ads
As I have mentioned quite a few times already, you can customise the CTA you use for advertising on Zhihu. There are quite a few options available, and you can use it both for News Feed ads and as a form of ‘content divider’ which is one of the marketing tools for Zhi+.
So, what are the options?
External link: You can drive users to a landing page. However, note that this one is quite tricky as the website has to be hosted in China with a valid ICP application. Still, not all websites will be accepted so you may consider an H5 page or a mini-program instead.
H5 page / Mini-program: These are both hosted within the Zhihu app and function in a similar way to WeChat mini-programs. They have to be built separately from your website but offer quite a lot of options. You may think of them as a simplified version of your app or website, and they still contain all the most important information.
eCommerce page: You can also link it directly to your Tmall and JD.com store.
App download: You can also direct users to an app store page.
WeChat: Directing users to your official account or sales rep’s WeChat account is also a good option. Once a user clicks on the ad, the account ID will be copied, and they can follow your official account or add you on WeChat.
Sign-up/Contact form: There’s also a version of a simple form that feeds into your CRM. Here, users can submit their name and phone number to be signed up for an event or be contacted by your team.
Direct message: In this option, users who click on the ad will be directed to a conversation with you. For this, you have the option of setting up an automated message (image, link, etc.).
Note: each action that takes users outside of the app (e.g. eCommerce store or WeChat) means you will lose track of them. So, it’s better if you can leverage Zhihu’s native tools to get what you want because you’ll collect data simultaneously.
Promoting Your Brand With Influencers on Zhihu
Last but not least, I’ll also explain how to advertise with influencers on Zhihu.
MCNs (Multi-channel Networks) are another option in China. If you read my guide to influencing on Douyin before, you may already know that MCNs are agencies that manage multiple influencers. It’s a good choice if you plan to promote your brand on numerous platforms at the same time. MCNs can suggest influencers who operate on all of them, or will prepare an offer for you that covers all the platforms with multiple influencers. This may be a good option if you’re dealing with industries such as fashion, food, cosmetics, games, or other B2C sectors.
However, if you’re in the B2B sector, or you want to stick with Zhihu for the time being, you should first have a look at the platform’s native influencer incubator. It’s called ‘Good Content Cooperation’.
The premise of the system is that everyone publishing regular, high-quality content gets an invitation to the programme. Once they accept it, their content will be shown to advertisers based on selected keywords, industry, etc.
The system shows the advertisers information such as the number of followers, interactions, shares, as well as the price-per-day for placing an ad in the given piece of content.
Once you have chosen the piece of content you’re interested in, you can send an invitation to the author and negotiate the price and the time of promotion. It can be as short as a week, or it could go on for a few months. The cost is deducted from your ad credit, and you’ll also pay for each click on your ad. Additionally, we suggest you use Zhi+ to promote the answer containing your ad so it reaches the broadest possible audience.
The agreement is mutually beneficial—you piggyback on their reputation, and their post gets more views because you pay to promote it (they also earn money). It’s cool to be a recognised content creator. ;-)
Remember: not all content creators choose to participate in Zhihu’s ‘Good Content’ programme. If you spot a user you wish to advertise with but you can’t find them in the system, you can still send them a private message and negotiate the terms. Unlike other Chinese platforms, Zhihu doesn’t restrict such cooperation (yet).
So, there you have it! Let me know if you have any questions, and feel free to reach out to our team or myself if you’re seeking advice on a more comprehensive content and advertising strategy for your brand in China.